How Is That Self-Policing Thing Working Out?

In 1849, the French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote words that became a proverb: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” The saying is just as true in English: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Five years ago, Michael F. Jacobson wrote for The Huffington Post:

The truth is that the food industry’s single biggest priority is preserving its ability to market junk food to young kids.

Childhood Obesity News has been griping about Nestle and the underhanded way it sells candy bars by riding on the coattails of the Girl Scouts. The company famously claimed that children under 12 can’t be influenced by whatever is depicted on the product’s packaging, because only adults go to grocery stores.

Here is the funny part. The Girl Scout candy is only sold during the summer months — when kids are most likely to accompany their parents on food shopping trips. But according to Nestle, kids don’t go in those places anyway, so it doesn’t matter.

Incidentally, the item description at a retail website where the controversial candy bars are sold in jumbo boxes of 44 contains a piece of genius copywriting:

Nestle Crunch & Girl Scouts have joined forces.

Joined forces is a straight-up military metaphor. Could anything more clearly spell their true intentions? They are attacking us! They speak of advertising campaigns, another term borrowed from the war industry. Their advertising campaigns are designed to target certain demographics.

Coincidentally, in the same year as the GS candy bar launch, created “Targeting Children With Treats,” a wonderfully detailed infographic. Of course, the specific statistics will have changed by now, but that’s not nearly as important as the overall grasp the infographic provides of the whole childhood obesity battlefield and the forces that are ranged against today’s kids.

Here is another fascinating bit of Nestle history from 2012. Nestle and General Mills both promised to make a 24% cut in the sugar content of several popular brands of breakfast cereal, along with a 12% reduction in the amount of sodium. And to increase the proportions of calcium and whole grains.

They said they would do it by 2015. How and why does it take three entire years for a factory to stop dumping so much salt into the mixing bowl?

But that is a side issue. Journalist Perry Nagin gets to the meat of the matter:

Meanwhile, in the U.S., these changes will have no effect. The cuts, which are estimated to affect 5.3 billion portions of cereal sold each year, are only being applied outside of North America. Somehow, the U.S. managed to get left out even though we have some of the highest obesity rates in the world.

Last August a study titled “Evaluating Industry Self-Regulation of Food Marketing to Children” was published. Its purpose was to weigh the success or failure of self-regulation by comparing the advertising content in TV shows for kids, before and after the food industry allegedly began to police itself. These lines are quoted from the Results and Conclusions sections:

Findings indicated that no significant improvement in the overall nutritional quality of foods marketed to children has been achieved since industry self-regulation was adopted.

A substantial proportion of child-oriented food marketers do not participate in self-regulation.

The lack of success achieved by self-regulation indicates that other policy actions are needed to effectively reduce children’s exposure to obesogenic food advertising.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Targeting Children with Treats,”, 01/09/12
Source: “Obesity Crisis: Childhood Obesity Rate Rises, As Nestle, General Mills Fail to…,”, 10/26/12
Source: “Evaluating Industry Self-Regulation of Food Marketing to Children,”, August 2015
Photo credit: JD Hancock via Visual Hunt/CC BY

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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